The advent of the Internet—and the virtual landscape that came as a result—is considered by many to be among the greatest technological advances in history, and the Web is constantly praised for its ability to provide surfers with instant, real-time information and services, among other boons. But what are not so often talked about are the Internet’s negative effects on individuals.
A recent Stanford University School of Medicine study attempts to change that by bringing attention to the concept of Internet addiction, according to an Oct. 17 press release posted on BusinessWire.com, and the researchers’ findings suggest the issue is worthy of further examination.
The telephone-based study of 2,513 adult Americans appears in the October issue of CNS Spectrums: The International Journal of Neuropsychiatric Medicine, and lead author Elias Aboujaoude, MD, said it is the first large-scale, random-sample epidemiological study ever performed on the subject of Internet addiction.
Among the study’s notable findings are the following:
Nearly 14 percent of participants—or roughly 1 out of 8—said they find it difficult to remain away from the Web for days at a time.
More than 12 percent often or very often stay online for longer than they intend.
More than 12 percent have felt some urge to cut down on Web surfing.
Almost 9 percent have at some point tried to hide their surfing habits from family, friends or others.
More than 8 percent have attempted to escape some problem or concern in their life via the Internet.
- Just under 6 percent said personal relationships were hampered by their excessive Web surfing.
“We often focus on how wonderful the Internet is—how simple and efficient it can make things. But we need to consider the fact that it creates real problems for a subset of people,” Aboujaoude, who is clinical assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of Stanford’s Impulse Control Disorders Clinic, said in the release.
Aboujaoude compared the effects of some Web users’ compulsive surfing, posting and networking habits to those of substance abuse and impulse control disorders, and said an increasing number of Americans are seeking medical attention from doctors or others to address concerns over their Internet use, according to the release.
The study identified the average affected person as a single, college-educated, 30-something, Caucasian male who surfs the Web for about 30 hours a week for “non-essential” purposes, according to the release. Upon quick examination of this demographic, it’s not far-fetched to consider that such “addiction” is in effect a pornography addiction, but Aboujaoude said pornography is only part of the issue.
“Not surprisingly, online pornography and, to some degree, online gambling, have received the most attention—but users are as likely to use other sites, including chat rooms, shopping venues and special-interest sites,” Aboujaoude said in the release. “Our survey did not track what specific Internet venues were the most frequented by respondents, but other studies, and our clinical experience, indicate that pornography is just one area of excessive Internet use.”
In the past, the subject of Web addiction hasn’t been probed deeply, but Aboujaoude said it’s starting to garner attention from experts in the medical and technological communities. One question that needs to be answered is whether such an addiction is its own distinct disorder or the product of another, such as manic depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder, Aboujaoude said.
The study was funded by an educational grant provided by Forest Laboratories.
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